The Force Awakens: The Missing Message

This Christmas holiday, I joined a battalion of kids and adults at the movie theaters to see the latest version of “Star Wars.” In 1977, Diane and I stood on a long line in San Francisco to watch the original. At the time, its special effects were stunning. Harrison Ford, a new actor, was brilliant as the swashbuckling Han Solo.

We were all captivated by the “force,” which channeled the power behind mind, body and spirit. It had elements of Eastern spiritual traditions, like meditation and yoga, which were newly introduced in the West, and popularized by none other than the Beatles.

We saw the current version in 3D, which was way cool. The starships seemed to land on my lap. The laser traces blasted into the audience, almost knocking my popcorn onto the floor. The surround sound rocketed me into hyperspace. But despite these razzle-dazzle special effects, I was disappointed.

My millennial kids and most of my teenage patients loved the new movie. One 15-year-old youngster summed it up nicely — “It was entertaining.” And therein lies my dissatisfaction. Movies should be more than just amusing and distracting. They should stimulate our minds and hearts. They should have some kind of message. So what was missing in this remake of the original?

Rey, our new heroine, didn’t have to learn about the ways of the force from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Unlike Luke, who required special training from Yoda in the follow-up movie in 1980, “The Empire Strikes Back,” Rey could thread a needle with her spaceship. She could perform martial arts leaps and bounds without a minute of instruction. She could levitate the light saber from the mud, 20 feet away, without a second of practice. Now we’re talking! Instant mastery of ancient knowledge. Sign me up — no hard work, preparation, or coaching required.

OK, maybe it’s sour grapes on my part. I have practiced a Japanese martial art, Aikido, for more than 20 years, several hours a week. Over these many years of training, hard work, struggle with my lack of athletic ability or talent (unlike our heroine Rey), I have developed some small measure of ability. In Aikido, I am considered an intermediate student, despite my years of practice and second-degree black belt. My teacher, with 50 years of training, can do some amazing things with his mind and body — although levitating objects is not one of them.

My point is, mastery takes time, effort, training and hard work. It’s arduous, and at times boring and repetitive. But over time, like putting a single drop of water in a glass every day, we develop skill and expertise, whether it’s as a teacher, writer, tennis player, psychologist, nurse or baker. There are no shortcuts to gaining know-how. There is nothing entertaining about learning through hard work. Even with 35 years of experience as a psychologist, I must continue to work to improve my knowledge and skill.

Of course, instant mastery is appealing, especially to young people. But let’s face it; you can’t be a member of the competence club unless you pay your dues.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at

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